Basic Information Sheet: African Pygmy Hedgehog

African Pygmy Hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris)

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Natural history


The African pygmy hedgehog is a native of West and Central Africa.

The African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris), also known as the central African, white-bellied, or four-toed hedgehog 1, is native to the savannah and steppe regions of Central Africa, extending from Somalia in the East and Senegal in the West 1,4,20.

The pet African pygmy hedgehog is probably descended from hybrids of the North African or Algerian hedgehog (A. algirus) and the African hedgehog 14. All pet hedgehogs in the United State are captive-bred.

In 1991, it became illegal to import hedgehogs from Africa into the United States because African hedgehogs can carry foot and mouth disease 17,21. The potential transmission of foot and mouth disease to cattle 17,21 has also made hedgehogs illegal in some states and municipalities. A permit is required in some states and a permit from the United States Department of Agriculture is required for persons who breed, transport, sell, exhibit or use HH for research or teaching purposes. 17

Taxonomy



Class: Mammalia

Order: Insectivora (Eulipotyphla) 4

Family: Erinaceidae

Conservation status


The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List lists Atelerix albiventris as a species of least concern. The population is stable 4.

Diet


Hedgehogs are omnivores however they mainly consume a variety of invertebrates. Hedgehogs also feed on, frogs, lizards, snakes, small mammals,, carrion, as well as vegetables, and fruit in the wild 9.

Captive diets typically consist of a moderate level of protein (30%-50%, dry basis) and fat (10%-20%)9.:

  1. Protein sources such as high-quality, reduced-calorie cat food (2-3 tsp), live insects (5-6 mealworms or 1-2 crickets 3-4 times weekly), avoid waxworms; bird of prey diet, insectivore diet , or hedgehog diet.
  2. Produce such as chopped mixed vegetables and/or fruits (1-2 tsp)
  3. Avoid dairy products and eggs in non-breeding pets.

Fresh water should be available at all times.

Husbandry

Cage designHouse “hedgies” in an enclosure with smooth walls and flooring such as 15-20 gallon aquarium with a secure, wire mesh lid.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and they prefer a quiet, dim environment.

SubstrateProvide about 10 cm of soft, absorbent bedding (recycled paper product, aspen shavings) to allow burrowing.
Cage furnitureProvide visual security in the form of a cardboard box with one open end, a plastic flower pot, hollow tubes, such as PVC piping, plants, or logs. If multiple hedgehogs are housed together, provide one hide box per animal 17.

Some hedgehogs may also be litter box trained 17. Alfalfa pellets or recycled paper product generally work best.

Solid exercise wheels provide exercise and enrichment opportunities (1,17
Other enrichment items can include swimming tubs, climbing structures, straw or hay, and cardboard tubes (1,,17

Target environmental humidityLow humidity < 40% is preferred 1 17
Target environmental temperature 1775-85°F24-30°C
In a hospital setting, maintain weak or debilitated hedgehogs between 80-85°F (27-29°C). 17

To prevent torpor, provide supplemental heating if temperature falls below 65°F (18°C). Below this temperature, hedgehogs becomes inactive and the immune system is compromised. 16

Normal physiologic values

Body temperature (see Metabolism below)1795.7-98.6°F35.4-37.0°C
Pulse180-280 bpm
Respiration25-50 bpm
Body weightAdult male400-600 g 17
Adult female250-400 g 1
Mean life span3-5 years4-6 years 17
Up to 10y recorded
Sexual maturityMale 2-6 months 16
Female 6-8 months 16
Females sexually mature at 2 months but should not be bred before 6 months of age 1
First breeding at 6-8 months
Gestation 2 1734-37 days 1
Litter size 21-9 pups 17(average 3-4)1,17
Birth weight10-18 g 17
Eyes open13-2414-18 days 17
Weaning age 24-6 weeksBegin eating solids at 3 weeks 17

Anatomy ⁄Physiology

DermatologyThe legs and ventral surface of the hedgehog are covered with light-colored fur.

The mantle is the dorsum of the hedgehog, which is covered with thousands of smooth, hollow spines made of keratin 17,24.

  • The spines serve to protect hedgehogs from predators, they buffer falls and help the thermoregulation (in winter) 22. Beneath the spines sits a large, fat-filled subcutaneous layer and a powerful muscle layer (orbicularis muscle) 17.

Juvenile hedgehogs are born with “nest spines” that sit just beneath the skin and emerge within hours after birth 1. “Nest spines” are shed at 1 month of age and are replaced with permanent spines, which last up to 18 months and are replaced one at a time 17.

Dental formulaI (3/2) C (1/1) PM (3/2) M (3/3) = 36 teeth 1,17

  • Hedgehog teeth are more blunt than in most insectivores.
  • The incisors are sharp, canines are small, and the molars and premolars are flat and broad 1

Deciduous teeth erupt between 18-23 days permanent teeth erupt 7-9 weeks 1

Gastrointestinal tractHedgehogs possess a simple stomach and lack a cecum. Gastrointestinal transit time is 12-16 hours 17
MusculoskeletalWhen threatened, the hedgehog curls into a ball by contracting the panniculus muscle. (It also extends its spines, puffs up, and hisses). Hedgehogs can remain rolled up for hours with relatively little muscular effort 17.

Most hedgehogs have five toes, but the African pygmy hedgehog only has four toes on the rear foot.1

The tibia and fibula are fused distally 17. The radius and ulna are also fused.1, 15

ReproductionThe penis is external and located on the mid-ventral abdomen 1. The testicles are often abdominal, and are not easily palpable. (D’Agostino). Pressure on the abdomen can push the testicles into the inguinal space.

Hedgehogs are polygamous.

Female hedgehogs possess a bicornuate uterus and a single cervix. 1

  • Spontaneous ovulators 17
  • Capable of breeding at a young age (2 months) 1

Polyestrous, breed throughout the year in captivity 17

Milk composition 17
Protein 16g/100g
Fat 25.5g/100g
CHO trace

See additional information in physiologic values above.

Special sensesHedgehogs have a keen sense of smell and hearing and poor eyesight 1,17.
MetabolismLike most insectivores, hedgehog body temperature is relatively low

All hedgehogs are capable of entering torpor during periods of cool, dry weather (temp <65°F or 18°C) for up to 6 weeks 17. Body temperature can drop as low as 1°C (D’Agostino). Excessively high environmental temperatures can also induce a torpid state. 17

Physical activity


Hedgehogs are adept at climbing, digging, swimming and jogging 17.
Normal HH gait is slow and steady waddle but they are capable of bursts of speed 17.

HH can be placed into a large escape-proof enclosure for exercise on a daily basis 1,17. Solid exercise wheels provide exercise and enrichment opportunities 1,17. Other enrichment items can include swimming tubs, climbing structures, straw or hay, and cardboard tubes 1,17


Behavior

NocturnalHedgehogs are nocturnal and they prefer a quiet, dim environment.
Social structureHedgehogs are solitary creatures that are generally housed alone. Males are particularly likely to fight.23

If multiple hedgehogs are housed together, provide one hide box per animal 17.

Defensive behaviorWhen threatened, the hedgehog curls into a ball by contracting the panniculus muscle, to protect the vulnerable ventrum and feet 1. Hedgehogs can remain rolled up for hours with relatively little muscular effort 17.

The hedgehog’s spines, which extend along its head and back, are also a deterrent to predators. Threatened hedgehogs will hiss, puff up, and extend the spines (found along the dorsum).

Self anointingWhen exposed to a new object, hedgehogs may exhibit a unique “self anointing” or “anting” behavior where they place their thick, frothy saliva onto their spines 3,8. Encounter a new or irritating substance > lick substance until saliva is produced > then vigorously groom its quills. The reason for this behavior is unknown. (D’Agostino)

Restraint

  • African hedgehogs rarely bite but adult males may hiss 1.
  • Even the tamest hedgehog tends to roll into a ball when touched 1, therefore a careful visual exam should always proceed hands-on care.
  • Inspection of the stomach may be impossible 11.
  • Hedgehogs are tame for their owners if handled consistently from an early age 8,17, however light leather gloves are required to handle all but the tamest hedgehogs (D’Agostino, 17.
  • Gently extend the ear legs to “wheel-barrow” the hedgehog and place a finger underneath the chin to prevent the hedgehog from rolling up 17 If rolled up, a gently stroke of the back spines may trigger a relaxation and the hedgehog stretches out 11.
  • Use sedation or general anesthesia for complete examination or procedures.


Diagnostics


Venipuncture

Use the jugular vein for larger volumes, and use the cephalic, lateral saphenous, or femoral veins for small volumes. 5,6, Rossi et al. 2013)

Radiography

Spines greatly reduce radiographic detail. Plastic clips or tape can be used to gently pull dorsal skin away from the chest and abdomen to improve detail. (D’Agostino)

Anesthesia is required for proper positioning 8,17.

Preventive medicine


  • Biannual or annual physical examination 17
  • Routinely monitor body weight and body condition
    An African hedgehog with a normal body condition score should be able to roll up completely without any evidence of protruding fat deposits. 17. Overweight hedgehogs typically develop large axillary fat depots 17.
  • Regular dental cleanings (tartar control cat treats can be helpful
  • Routine toe nail trims (often anesthesia is necessary)
  • Microchip implantation for collections
  • Surgical sterilization is generally not necessary since most hedgehogs are housed alone

Therapeutics



Hospitalization

Maintain weak or debilitated hedgehogs between 80-85°F (27-29°C). 17
Provide familiar food items whenever possible. Live invertebrates may also stimulate feeding.

In hospital: for weak or debilitated HH

Oral

Oral medications can be difficult to impossible to administer to hedgehogs. Some patients will accept fruit-flavored medications via syringe 17. Mealworms injected with medication can also be offer per os 1.

Parenteral injections

Common intramuscular injection sites are the thigh and mantle (orbicularis muscle) 1.

The flanks are preferred for subcutaneous (SC) injections, however these furred areas are less accessible in a balled hedgehog. The dermis beneath the spiny skin is poorly vascularized, therefore absorption of fluids or medications injected SC under spiny skin may be poorly absorbed 1. SC injections beneath the mantel, should not be placed too laterally or ventrally; if the animal begins to roll up, the injection can inadvertently enter the thoracic cavity or peritoneal cavity. Injections in the shoulders or neck should also be avoided. as large fat depotscan impair the absorption 11,17,18.

Fluid therapy

Administer fluids intravenously via the cephalic vein or through intraosseous catheters placed in the proximal or distal tibia or the proximal femur 1,15.

Important medical conditions

  • Corneal ulceration 17
  • Dental disease, including periodontal disease 8,17
  • Dermatophytosis 17
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly affects males over 1 year of age 8,17
  • Leg and foot injury (wire cages and running wheels) 19
  • Mange
  • Neoplasia, including oral neoplasia, skin neoplasia, and uterine tumors (8,1517
  • Obesity, hepatic lipidosis 8,17
  • Ocular proptosis 17,25
  • Wobbly hedgehog syndromeWobbly hedgehog syndrome is a progressive, demyelinating paralysis condition first described in the 1990s in captive African hedgehogs 1,13,14,17. The incidence of disease is approximately 10% in North America 14,17. Onset typically occurs between 1-36 months of age. Clinical signs include falling to one side, hunched posture, seizure activity, tremors, exophthalmos, muscle atrophy, dysphagia, and paresis which leads to ascending paralysis. One of the earliest signs is an inability to roll up 17.Intervertebral disc disease has been reported in hedgehogs and is an important differential diagnosis for neurologic signs8.


Zoonotic potential


Hedgehogs are often asymptomatic carriers of several strains of Salmonella, particularly
Salmonella tilene, S. typhimurium, and S. enteritiditis 17.

Hedgehogs carry a variety of dermatophytes and therefore protection with gloves while handling is recommended21.

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References